May 6, 2013
In last week’s article I commented that in articles to follow, I would focus on things you can expect next fall. The Schools of Logic and Rhetoric, strategic pieces in our mission, will see some changes next year. Some items will be cultural while others will be academic. A few of the academic changes: I am committed to parents of middle/high schools students being able to check academic progress on the web. It is one simple way for the school to upgrade communication with parents regarding their middle/upper school students. Next year our juniors will begin the study of Ancient Greek, putting Regents School of Oxford in an extremely select category of schools in the country where students do this. Ancient Greek, when coupled with Latin, covers 75-80% of roots in the English language. A tremendous byproduct of the study of Greek is the opportunity for high school students to read the New Testament in the original language. Another academic component next year will be that Mrs. Huckaba, who has demonstrated a passion for literature, will spend some time teaching that exciting subject in the School of Rhetoric. Next week I will provide more academic thoughts about the Logic and Rhetoric schools. Suffice it to say… I am pumped about what is ahead.
Culturally speaking, regarding the Logic and Rhetoric schools, I will do something at Regents that I have done at other schools but more expansively. Given that our mission includes helping you instill biblical character into your sons and daughters, I want to visit with every student and their parents in the Logic and Rhetoric schools. It will take the entire summer to accomplish this task but I believe we should do it. What will we talk about? As the summer approaches, I am developing that list. I plan to discuss with your student my commitment to them as the Headmaster, and my expectations from them as a student. I have found that students will tend to rise to challenges that they respect. My challenge to them will be rooted in the gospel, while attempting to motivate them to academic excellence.
I hope that this first article whets your appetite for what is coming… it has mine already.
April 29, 2013
Wednesday is May 1st, 2013. That sentence is remarkable. I can tell you that this year, from my perspective, has been a very quick one. Typically, this is one of the more difficult times in the life of a school. Everyone is exhausted while looking for that last day of school. Curriculum deadlines beckon faculty, tests and papers are calling students, while we also plan for the fall and the new school year. It never ends. Yet, I have to say, it has been a very enjoyable year getting to know the school, defining our purpose as stated in our mission statement, preparing our documentation for accreditation, and all the other things.
I hope you were able to attend Grandparents’ Day last Friday. The students did such a wonderful job and the grandparents enjoyed it. There were so many that led the effort: Julie Wilson headed the event, Abbie Robinson led the book sale, and Cindy Fernandez directed the recitations. There were others that helped with the physical setup (the gym, the grounds), the invitations and other things. The faculty that worked so diligently on the recitation pieces and students who participated were a real blessing. It took so many people to plan and carry out the event and I am thankful for everyone who was involved.
Remember to pray for our 9th-11th graders while they are on their trip to Washington D.C. and New York this week.
April 22, 2013
By the end of the week, Regents School of Oxford will send its accreditation documentation to the Association of Classical Christian Schools. The packet offers ACCS our evidence that Regents is committed to and ready for a visit by an accreditation team, including the executive director, Patch Blakey. Mr. Blakey is a close friend of mine, but he will offer us no passes on what is required, nor should he. The team will thoroughly examine Regents from every possible angle, offering insights into possible improvements or aberrations from what is the accredited norm. The team will visit every classroom and observe every faculty member insuring that each one is teaching with an understanding of the Seven Laws of Teaching. They will evaluate whether each teacher is grasping classical methodology and whether they are seeking to grow towards that end. The team will be watching for the integration of theology within the curriculum, as well. If this sounds like they are looking for a school that is classically driven and gospel centered, you are right. That is what we continue to emphasize each day.
Accreditation standards require us to have a plan for faculty to grow in these two objectives, attend conferences, and put into practice what we learn. This year the faculty has been reading The Case for Classical Education by Doug Wilson and Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson. A number of the faculty attended the ACCS conference last summer in Dallas and will go this summer to Atlanta. The faculty will have the opportunity to hear a number of excellent speakers at this conference that will, hopefully, have an impact on your sons and daughters. I will have the opportunity to attend a number of sessions where I can do the same as an administrator. Several Regents board members are planning to attend with specialized sessions available for them. For an overview, visit the conference website at accsedu.org/conference.
I am committed to RSO being excellent and an accredited member of ACCS. We are well on the way.
April 15, 2013
Last week I began a series on our pursuit of accreditation through the Association of Classical Christian Schools. In that article I briefly answered two questions: Why Accreditation and Why ACCS Accreditation? If you are not familiar with ACCS, their website is http://accsedu.org. There is a great deal of information regarding classical Christian education on the site, including such things as averages for standardized tests at ACCS schools. The average SAT score at ACCS schools is 1824 while the national average is 1498; the average ACT for ACCS schools is 26.1 while the national average 21.1. There are also articles about CCE and information about the summer conference in Atlanta that many of our faculty will attend.
For Regents to be accredited by ACCS, we have to meet a number of academic standards, including requiring students to take Trigonometry, Physics, extensive training in writing (prose and poetry), grammar, spelling and composition. Students must have at least four years of either Greek or Latin (with at least two years being in the 7th-8th or 9th-12th grade years), to have at least one year of formal logic and one year of Rhetoric. These are in addition to the normal classes that students take. The academic required standards for all students at ACCS schools are either the highest or among the highest in the state, possibly the country. I am certain the ACCS standards lead to the standardized test scores being as high as they are. ACCS also requires that its member schools utilize a nationally recognized standardized test such as the Stanford Achievement or the Educational Research Bureau (ERB). The ERB is used by a number of private independent schools across the country. Regents currently uses the Stanford 10 Achievement Test and OLSAT, although we are considering others.
ACCS will send a team comprising the executive director of the organization and possibly two others, both of whom are experienced headmasters of accredited schools. Having a team come and evaluate the school is something that I know will help us be an even better school. The team members will offer their expertise on various items that are required and suggested by ACCS. It is a very thorough process that will result in Regents being the classical Christian school we want it to be.
April 8, 2013
Since Regents was founded in 2000, the school has been committed to a classical Christian philosophy. Nationally, the classical Christian school movement started in the 1980’s in Moscow, Idaho with the establishment of Logos School. That one school led to the establishment of many others. Questions posed to Logos eventually led to a national conference with roughly 1000+ in attendance. The conference for this year will be held in Atlanta, June 20th-22nd. (To see more about the conference, visit http://accsedu.org.) The organization that plans this particular conference also started accrediting schools under the name of the Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS) in 1996.
Since that time, the number of schools affiliated with and accredited by ACCS has grown significantly. Additionally, ACCS has a board that represents schools across the country and oversees the accrediting process for schools wishing to follow that path. In April of last year, the Regents board committed to pursue accreditation with ACCS. Although I was not part of that decision, I strongly affirm pursuing this accreditation. Since that decision in April, Regents has been preparing documents to send to ACCS in preparation for the team that will visit the campus next fall. The process of accreditation has required us to review all our foundational documents. Criteria for ACCS accreditation includes four areas: School Goals and Objectives, Academics, Governance and Administration, and Faculty and Instructional Resources.
Why should we pursue accreditation with ACCS? There are at least two questions here 1) Why accreditation? and 2) Why ACCS accreditation? Accreditation is good in that we ask fresh eyes to examine what we are doing from a norm perspective. It helps to have individuals from across the country with a set of standards to come to our site. I have found that documentation does not necessarily translate to practice at a school. Therefore, it is important to have a team come and spend a few days examining documents, watching faculty, interviewing the board and experiencing the culture. I appreciate the fresh eyes perspective that a national team gives us. Secondly, the ACCS accreditation offers us a nationally proven and growing assessment as no other organization can do. The “CC” of ACCS is classical Christian. Given that Regents is a classical Christian school, the ACCS accreditation is in keeping with our mission and vision.
Knowing what I know about ACCS, ACCS schools, accreditation, and Regents, this model of accreditation definitely best suits who we are and where we are going. One final point regarding ACCS accreditation is that the requirements for graduates are the highest academic standards I have seen. Each week I will detail some of the items in each of the sections, revealing the value of ACCS accreditation. To learn more about the Association of Classical Christian Schools, please visit their website at http://accsedu.org, or click on their logo on our website.
April 2, 2013
You may know that Regents is the third classical Christian school where I have served. I spent a number of years at Westminster Academy in Memphis, and then almost three years at Cair Paravel Latin School in Topeka, Kansas. Each school was a blessing to me and each school offered great opportunities to students and their families in both the academic and spiritual realms. We have not had as many graduating classes here to compare, but at the other two schools our students were accepted at colleges across the country. In fact, when colleges began hearing about our curriculum, they started calling, heavily recruiting our juniors and seniors. Admissions counselors at these universities were, and are intrigued by students taking Latin, Greek, Rhetoric, Logic, Capstone Classes in Science, Math and Philosophy. We included a description of the curriculum with every transcript to educate admissions’ offices. It was an exciting time each year watching as the students received acceptance letters to a number of universities. As a headmaster I had the blessed opportunity to write reference letters for a number of these students. My experience in Memphis and Kansas, coupled with my travels literally across the country as an accreditation team member, also have given me the opportunity to see how well accepted students at classical Christian schools are when entering other environments, public or private. Whether the students are entering colleges or other K-12 schools, they are finding success in those environments. When students had to transfer, for reasons other than academic difficulties, the move was seamless. I routinely heard that our students were achieving academic success as a result of the curricula at classical Christian schools.
Many of my former students, at both schools, let me know that they were bored in their freshman and sophomore level classes at most universities due to what they experienced in high school. This is a testimony that what we were doing there was rigorous and making a difference. That is where I want Regents to be as well. My expectation is that we provide an education, that wherever and whenever our students go, they are prepared and accepted.
March 25, 2013
Quod si ea mihi maxime impenderet, tamen hoc animo fui semper ut invidiam virtute partam gloriam, non invidiam putarem. Cicero’s Catilinarian Oration 1:29:323-325
I recently invited Swayze Alford to my Latin class to talk about his perceptions of the speech my students are currently memorizing; the above lines are in the speech. Loosely translated, they state: Because if those things do indeed threaten me, I nevertheless have always considered that dislike gained by courageous actions is not dislike, but honor. Cicero made that statement during a difficult time in the Roman Republic. A fellow Roman citizen and senator threatened the Republic’s safety. One possible way to deal with the threat was to execute the senator. Some thought that this would bring an unreal amount of pressure on Cicero. He responded with these lines. Honestly, I like the thought of being able to have these kinds of conversations with students. History is replete, as is literature, with moments just like these. Right decisions frequently come with difficult costs.
Needless to say, when Swayze brought these lines out during his time with the class, I was thrilled. What he was able to do for a few moments in my class is what I get to do every day in class, and oversee throughout the school. What I have found about classical Christian education is that 1) education is not neutral, 2) good teaching is not as much about giving information as it is teaching students what questions to ask, 3) either all of life is worship and thus, important, or none of it is, 4) if #3 is true, then there are noble things to learn in the simplest of things, and 5) consequently, the teaching, planning and leading truly never ends for the staff at Regents School of Oxford. I also know that not everyone thinks this way about classical Christian education, therefore we must continue educating those around us about its glories.
March 4, 2013
I remember a birthday party I attended years ago where the cake had been decorated beautifully. To say we needed patience in waiting to cut it was an understatement. Finally, the candles were lit, the song was sung, and the knife was just over the cake. To the amazement of all, someone had taken a box and put layers of icing on it revealing no cake, only cardboard. What a letdown! The other extreme was a cake I made that revealed my inability as a baker; no baking skills whatsoever. It was a pitiful excuse for a cake. There came a point when I was ready to be through with it and did not care how it looked.
I think both examples reveal outcomes in the education process. The first cake had no substance, it was all show. It reminds me of Plato’s dealing with the sophists in his book Gorgias. I also see the “show” occurring in Christian schools that minimize the gospel piece of life. What do I mean? Primarily, the idea troubles me that students at Christian schools either do not sin, or sin much less than students at other schools. What should be occurring at schools is the training in substantive matters, both academic and spiritual. Our classes should be exposing students to the highest form of thought, scientific inquiry, and rhetorical training, while reminding them that every human being is created in God’s Image and His Creation is important. I have no interest in an “all icing” cake. There are classical Christian schools that enjoy touting their curriculum (Logic, Latin, Rhetoric, etc.) without the elements necessary for success.
The other “cake” can frequently become normal in some environments. It can be so normal that shoddy academic performance is accepted and expected. It is the duty of a school, specifically a classical Christian school, to develop young people who want to pursue excellence whether there is a grade or not. The truth of the matter is that a child who is making A’s may not actually be pursuing excellence in that the work might be easy for them. The task of the school is to connect with each student in such a way that the faculty knows that child so well that effort can be measured. Larger classrooms do not tend to allow this as much.
So, for the record, I am not interested in poorly crafted cakes, or cake boxes with a bunch of icing. There is a baker in the school who has made cakes, cupcakes and cinnamon rolls. I know who has made them by their look. My mouth begins to water as I think about it. Can I let you in on what I want for Regents? I want our graduates and students to create that same desire in our community and the colleges they attend. I have to stop….. it is time to go help mix the ingredients.
February 25, 2013
The quote below is from Dorothy Sayers’ great essay “The Lost Tools of Learning.” If you have not read the entire essay, I urge you to do so. (It can be found on our website.) Sayers’ essay is the basis upon which classical Christian schools were founded years ago. I fear that her assessment of the educational establishment, though true then, is even true more so today. It was written in 1948. Since that time education professionals have surmised that an extremely pragmatic approach to education is somehow superior to training young people how to learn and how to think for themselves. Her view is that the role of educators is really to train young people how to teach themselves so they are not lost when something new comes along. What the faculty at Regents is committed to is training young minds to understand the patterns of learning so when something is outside those patterns, that student will know how to respond. Young people who merely are acquainted with facts and tests rarely will be motivated to learn beyond what is required. Experienced educators should be passionate about inspiring students to do far more than that, but most environments, due to various constraints, do not allow this, nor is the faculty trained to do so. Classical Christian educators are interested in students learning the facts and how those facts inter-relate. They aspire for the students to understand and explain the relationships as well. The last piece I would add is that a classical Christian educator is committed to teaching students what questions to ask, when to ask them, and how to ask them.
“Is not the great defect of our education today—a defect traceable through all the disquieting symptoms of trouble that I have mentioned—that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils “subjects,” we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning. It is as though we had taught a child, mechanically and by rule of thumb, to play “The Harmonious Blacksmith” upon the piano, but had never taught him the scale or how to read music; so that, having memorized “The Harmonious Blacksmith,” he still had not the faintest notion how to proceed from that to tackle “The Last Rose of Summer.” Why do I say, “as though”? In certain of the arts and crafts, we sometimes do precisely this—requiring a child to “express himself” in paint before we teach him how to handle the colors and the brush. There is a school of thought which believes this to be the right way to set about the job. But observe: it is not the way in which a trained craftsman will go about to teach himself a new medium. He, having learned by experience the best way to economize labor and take the thing by the right end, will start off by doodling about on an odd piece of material, in order to “give himself the feel of the tool.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Sayers’ assessment. I hope you do as well. Regents School of Oxford is the only school in this city that is implementing Sayers’ ideas from Pre-K – 12th grades.
February 19, 2013
One of the things that draw me to classical education is the emphasis on ancient literature that for the most part is forgotten in our culture. The sad truth is that the educational systems across the country have either neglected or intentionally omitted the great literature of Western Civilization. This oversight has led, in my opinion, to a loss of our understanding of story and, additionally, a dramatic decline in the study of philosophers, poets, and historians of those eras. When I am in conversation with educators about various issues and refer to an author of the classical timeframe, it is a rarity that the educator knows of the author. The reason for this is that education for some time now has been geared to merely getting students prepared “for” something rather than the value being placed on learning because learning is good. The study of Virgil, Homer, Thucydides, Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle has been replaced by other things that have proven “more valuable”. That last sentence reveals how bankrupt the educational system is in our country. To think that a student could graduate from high school, much less college, having never read Homer. It is almost unbelievable that even the name Homer means very little to current students, except that his last name is Simpson. This, however, occurs every single year.
I also think that medieval and modern authors are valuable for our students to read, but the classical authors have withstood the test of time. The truth is that literature gives great insight into a culture, and literature that neglects the greatest works cannot expect the next generation to produce significant ones. In a small way, even the Latin curriculum at RSO supplements the literature program. Our textbook, Wheelock’s Latin, includes quotes from ancient Roman authors. An example I can give is from a poet named Horace: Boni propter amorem virtutis peccare oderunt. Translated it states: Good men, on account of their love of virtue, have to sin. As a student translates this sentence, I get the opportunity to talk about Horace, what the word “good” means, have a conversation about virtue or courage, while checking to make sure the student is understanding the grammar. There are numerous authors such as Cicero, Terrence, Virgil, Martial, Seneca, Publilius Syrus, and others whose work is included in the text. These conversations will lead to our juniors and seniors having conversations, writing papers, and delivering their work regarding philosophy, history, economics and theology, all rooted in logic and based on valid syllogisms. One other thought: What is happening in every grade is crucial to our students recovering the lost tools of learning. These tools are not being used at any other school within an hour or more from Regents School of Oxford.
February 11, 2013
The parent called me fairly late one night after she had spoken to her son about a particular matter. She seemed slightly irritated, but not enough to prohibit a pleasant conversation I thought. This was not out of the norm to receive a call from a parent regarding a child and academics. What she asked me next was out of the norm. Apparently her son had been disobedient and she wanted my assistance regarding her request. The young man had been a history nerd from all accounts, but that had not translated over into Latin until the class began translating Cicero and Caesar. When we did that, he added Latin nerd to the mix. The truth is that the mother wanted me to tell him to go to sleep when she asked him to do so. Why? He was turning his light back on and pulling out his Catilinarian Orations by Cicero and working until the wee hours of the morning. As I said, this was out of the norm; a mom, requesting that I tell her son not to translate Latin. (This is a true story by the way, as strange as it may sound).
When thinking about that student my conclusions are that this is exactly what we want to happen, with the exception of the disobedience piece. Obviously, if mom says turn out the light, he should turn out the light. As a parent you might not have that problem, but wish you did. This young man was in the 9th grade and had studied Latin for a few years by this point. This call from his mother did not occur until that 9th grade year, not before it. The kind of development that took place in his life was an ongoing process that required him to be in an environment that said “it’s okay to be smart, diligent, and passionate” about school. Classical Christian schools tend to foster these kinds of attitudes in students due to the faculty and curriculum that are utilized in the process.
The truth is I want every student and parent in this kind of dilemma. Academic excellence is my passion for Regents and I will not be satisfied until we reach it. The fact is, reaching it is a continual process that requires faculty to inspire and prod students to reach as well. If my Latin students do not see me as loving Latin, how can they do so? The answer is that they do not and will not. I have to be a lifelong learner to inspire and instill learning in those whom I teach and I require nothing less from the rest of the faculty. It does help to have parents who are just as committed to this type of education. The young man whom I referred to earlier has gone on to a very good liberal arts college on the east coast and is successfully completing the curriculum. His classical Christian school training prepared him for college life in every way. He even stays up late to study… just because he wants to do so.
February 4, 2013
In 7th – 9th grades, Regents School of Oxford uses Wheelock’s Latin as the textbook. It is an exceptional tool for those wanting to learn Latin as adults; the chapters are short and are able to be assimilated quickly. Much of the data is similar to that in grammar school (Latin endings on nouns or verbs do not change), but the vocabulary builds more quickly in the older grades. Wheelock’s Latin also presents the sentences of ancient authors for translation. That is what makes teaching Latin particularly exciting to me. Invariably, in these sentences, we find rich history, philosophy, political oration, economic theory and theology. My glorious task every day in 8th grade Latin is to discuss these points with students. I never tire of it, and hopefully neither do they. The opportunity I have in Latin allows me to take students on a grammatical journey that may take us to the Forum to listen to Cicero, or to Gaul for Caesar’s invasions. We sit attentively as Augustine offers his wisdom or we hear Virgil recite theAeneid. Lest you think we complete the journey there, we then step into Scripture if any of those points might seemingly contradict God’s Word.
I confess that I use Latin as a tool and not as an end in itself. I am not content to merely explain the nuances of Latin grammar so well that students understand it. My task is not finished until students can take those passages, translate them, then see the worldview of the author through his words. I want my students thinking about the content and the context of whatever we are translating. If I do my job correctly, they begin doing that because I am modeling it for them in the classroom. I use Latin to teach students about life, but a byproduct is that they come out educated about many things. Frankly speaking, the entire faculty must follow that same model. We want our students, regardless of the grade, to think clearly about God’s creation so that when the opportunity arises, she can speak about the hope that is within her. I do not mind mentioning again that Regents is the only school in Oxford that provides this for students. Jesus is neither ignored nor forbidden while we pursue academic excellence.
January 28, 2013
Last week I chose to start answering questions regarding Latin being taught in a classical school. If I listen to current trends in education, these trends tell us that we have to prepare students for a global market, but more importantly we have to get them to college, and according to the trend, this requires a modern language. The presuppositions are numerous as are the fallacies. I want to write regarding a few.
The reasoning offered today that we have to prepare students for the global economy in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thought. This last sentence may have caught you by surprise. In examining this idea, would any educator offer commentary that what occurs in the classroom should not be sufficient for that purpose? I doubt it. I believe that when it comes to developing the reasoning and communication skills of young people, there is no better methodology than a classical one. Hopefully, you have considered this as you look at the educational landscape. In the meantime, please do not let your child determine their educational future. That is your job.
Some students will see a lack of homework or the absence of memory work as a reason for another educational model. Then there is the student’s query of “Why Latin for a Regents’ student?” The great thinkers of Western Civilization were trained classically and Latin was a part of that educational process. Teaching young people Latin clearly teaches English grammar and vocabulary, and requires a mental acuity that no other language requires. Its ending and syntax require precision, and precision is what is desperately needed in young minds that are filled with many other things. Latin and Logic clearly go together, helping students learn to think, reason and apply truth. Ultimately, why Latin? Primarily we require Latin because it is a language of beauty, of orderly design, and one of the vehicles God chose to spread the Gospel of Christ across the known world. That alone is enough for me, but I am also grateful for the consequences as well: 60-70% of English word roots come from Latin, students of Latin score routinely 100 points higher on the SAT, and students of Latin tend to have higher GPA’S than those who study modern languages… I could go on, but I will stop.
When I consider where we are as a nation, I want the next generation of leaders to be articulate, discerning, logical, and have the ability to communicate with anyone about virtually anything. Do you want to know where to find these kinds of students? You will find them being educated at classical Christian schools across the country, and at 14 County Road 130, Oxford, Mississippi, the site of Oxford’s only classical Christian school.
January 22, 2013
“Can there be anything more ridiculous than that a Father should waste his own money, and his son’s time, in sending him to learn the Roman language?” I have heard this, or variations of it from parents for a long time. Other quotes are “Latin’s a dead language, isn’t it?”, “I want my child to learn a modern language so he will be prepared for the global economy.” There are other quotes regarding Latin and Greek that I do not really appreciate. What about these: We teach Latin so students will do well on the ACT or SAT, or we teach Latin because it helps students learn how to think? The first quote I referenced was from John Locke. The last quotes are from classical schools that bought into the philosophy that education’s end is why we do things.
Why do we teach Latin and Greek at Regents? That is a very good question, and I would have to say that there are some very good by-products in the teaching of Latin. Some of the by-products are indeed higher ACT and SAT scores. It is a fact that students of Latin tend to score from 50 to 100 points higher on the SAT than students of virtually any other language. German and Hebrew run a close second, and come closer than any of the Romance languages. So, from a college prep perspective it makes sense to study Latin and Greek. Secondly, the discipline it takes to read Latin assists a student in the development of his development of cognitive abilities. Translation of a Latin sentence takes precision and diligence to accomplish the task. The combination of endings, vocabulary, context and syntax require a great deal of study to master the process. Consequently, there is no doubt that the taking and studying of Latin assists in the development of a student. If, however, these are the ends of studying Latin, or any other subject for that matter, then, the troubling thing to me is that this reveals no difference in educational philosophies than teaching to a test. There is something higher and nobler to education than merely taking tests, standardized or otherwise. If you’ve concluded the essay is larger than why we teach Latin and Greek, you are right. Philosophically, education is going to be driven by the why questions and the answers to those questions will determine the worldview of your children. I refer not only to the gospel. If we only focus on testing and the stereotypical ends in education, our students will only see those as valuable. Thus the incessant question, “Is this on the test?” plagues us because that is what education has become. The classical model of education was founded upon the development of virtue and wisdom in the students and not preparation for a job. It was directed toward the whole person because teachers realized that what one learned was indeed who they were and are.
I am thinking you noticed I did not fully answer the “Why Latin?” question and you would be right in that observation. There’s always next week.
January 14, 2013
The sentence was simple enough. It read “Boni propter amorem virtutis peccare oderunt.” Wheelock’s Latin offered this sentence for translation in chapter seven and we tackled it quickly. I liked it because it had a number of grammatical points that merited our attention: a defective verb that typically utilizes an infinitive, a substantive adjective that acts like a noun, and the third declension word virtutis. The sentence is a grammarian’s dream for beginning students. I spent no small amount of time examining the sentence last Thursday those specific points. What makes a verb defective you ask? In some cases a verb fits this category if it lacks a fourth principle part (as is true with the Latin verb odi). Is this important?
If a student is to learn Latin, it is important. It is not enough for our students to memorize endless lists of vocabulary words unless all we are trying to do is get them ready for some test on derivatives. However, I want more than that. If we are going to teach Latin, I want our students to understand the beauty of the language. They must grasp detail to do so. The minutiae of language can be drudgery, but we must make it a delight. That, typically, is the teacher’s foremost task and it directly relates to one’s own view of said detail. We translated the sentence correctly and moved onto the next sentence in chapter seven. Actually, we did not.
From my perspective, just being able to translate a complex sentence is not enough for me. Regents not only exist for the academic detail, although I am passionately pursuing that end for our students and future graduating classes. I want our students to be able to translate complex sentences, paragraphs, and literature, but I also want our students to investigate the philosophical points within that context as well.
What exactly does it mean when Horace say “Good men hate to sin because of their love of virtue?” When a student is learning the chants in grammar school, and the basic grammar during their upper grammar stages, I assure you it is leading to more. It is leading to philosophical conversations that we begin in 6th-8th grades that culminate in 9th-12th grades. This approach to education does not and will not occur anywhere else in this county. How do I know this? Primarily because the philosophical conversation only has resolution at the point of the true, the good and the beautiful, who is Jesus.
Horace used the word “boni” which means good. He used the word “amorem” which means love. He used the word “virtutis” which means virtue. Our students have to be exposed to and aspiring towards a scholarship that is second to none, but rooted in an understanding that pursuing the cross of Christ leads one to hating to sin.
January 7, 2013
I hope your break was a restful and joyous one. My family enjoyed the extended time off, but I also am ready to start this second semester. In doing that, the Regents Report came quickly. This spot each week has been reserved for articles dealing primarily with our mission/vision, but also other items like security. I did want to let you know that Robb Stubblefield and I are working on this issue already.
Before the break we asked the Sheriff’s Department to visit the campus and make recommendations to improve our security. They came on the Wednesday prior to the break. Mr. Stubblefield and I are visiting about their observations. The secondary phase of enhancing our security is to enlist the recommendations of a security firm, to include a strong tech presence around the facilities. In addition, we have included a thorough review of our fire procedures. I have already consulted with a fireman regarding our facilities and drill procedures. Having said all this, please be patient as Mr. Stubblefield and I draw conclusions for a long term solution, implemented as quickly as possible.
I do believe within the month I will make announcements regarding these decisions and the actions that will follow. On another note I anticipate this weekly article to address various issues that I am seeing within the classical Christian school movement, or have observed in the past several years. These items include issues like “How Do We Deal with Technology?, “Why in the World Do We Require our Students to Take Latin?”, “What in the World is Logic and Why is it Important?”, “Rhetoric is Something Bad, Isn’t It?”, “Is My Child Going to Be Ready for College after a Classical Education?”, “Going through 8th Grade is a Good Enough Foundation”, and “There’s Really Not Much Difference between Schools Right?”.
These are but a few topics I will address in this space beginning next week. It is almost guaranteed I will irritate someone with some of my comments. I assure you it is not my intent, but it happens. The truth is Regents School of Oxford is a classical Christian school and has been since her founding. Her mission is plainly stated, though tweaked so we have two talking points, for those interested. Do you remember them? Regents School of Oxford is going to be classically driven and gospel centered. I do not tire thinking about Regents and her mission and, frankly, all through my break that mission captivated my thoughts. I believe that Regents was called to do more than simply teach children math, science, literature, logic and other subjects. Regents has been called to take the gospel to the world through her families, faculty and staff. There is no greater educational calling in this city. As I have told the board, “I’m In.” I pray you are as well…..all the way through 12th grade. It is exciting to see it unfold and think about what is to come.
December 17, 2012
Dear Regents Family:
I am not sure how you have responded regarding the news in Connecticut but I have a pretty good idea. As citizens of the United States we are dumfounded that something like this could occur in our country, as parents we cannot imagine this happening to our children, but as Christians we understand that evil is ever around us. Unfortunately, what runs through my mind is not that these events occur, but in light of how deeply our depravity runs, I am surprised that it does not happen more often.
As a headmaster I think about the devastating loss of life among student and staff in a setting that is supposed to be secure. From a security standpoint, it appears that the school had fulfilled its responsibilities. Reports vary regarding the gunman's entry to the school, but I have gathered that he shot a glass door or window or was allowed access after the school staff recognized him. Either way, he entered the building and was a stark reminder that genuine security is truly found only in Jesus.
While I do believe our security is only found in Him, I also believe He has called us to be good stewards of what He has given us, and in this statement I am not talking about buildings. You have graciously entrusted your children to us and I do not consider this to be a minor point. As I see your children every day, I am reminded of what the Father has called us and you have commissioned us to do. I take it seriously. I do think that as a school we have to ask ourselves questions about security at Regents School of Oxford. My initial response is that our security is acceptable, but not what I want.
Right after I heard the news of the school in the northeast, I walked the facility looking at things we can improve. I made a list of things that we need to improve and I assure you we will be vigilant in completing the list. On Friday, I initiated the steps to evaluate our disaster plan and begin implementation of the new proposal as quickly as possible. This plan will include fire, tornado and lockdown procedures. This plan will be led by Mr. Stubblefield, and the police and fire departments. Some aspects will most surely require funding things like cameras, monitors, and the wiring for those systems.
One final thing I would like to add: I want this to be a reasoned approach to our needs and not a quick response, to do something. I want us to do what we do well so it will last and not need to be done again in a year. My driving thoughts on safety require me to think what I would require if my sons were enrolled here. I will have nothing less than that. If you need some assistance in talking about these difficult events, I suggest the following resources: The Invisible Hand (R.C. Sproul), and Trusting God Even When Life Hurts (Jerry Bridges). Both are excellent resources that I have used extensively.
December 10, 2012
Within the last few months you received information and/or a phone call regarding the Regents Annual Fund that included our goal and priorities. With all the writing and speaking I have done this first semester, the one thing I have not mentioned much is money. While I enjoy talking about the mission and vision of Regents, I do not approach the subject of money with the same passion…except when I connect it to what we are doing here. You may have noticed with the mention of classically driven and gospel centered education and its impact on children, my enthusiasm level increases dramatically. The truth is that the conversation about classically driven and gospel centered requires a serious discussion about finances. Unlike government schools, we do not have access to every taxpayer when it comes to raising revenue. Frankly, our approaches must be pretty simple: tuition and general giving. Additionally, our resource base is much smaller than public schools. The average per capita for a student in cities our size is roughly $10,000 in a public school. Budgeting can be very challenging for smaller schools to accomplish, whether they are classical Christian or not. Obviously we do not charge $10,000 a student at Regents, but the truth is, the tuition we charge does not come close to covering our costs. It requires us to rely on the generosity of parents and individuals who believe in what we are doing and who believe in what we want to accomplish. We must be good stewards of the resources we have. In addition, we must be good stewards as we make plans to address our future needs. Thankfully, the board is actively involved in both of these things. Please do remember as you are giving, to receive appropriate donation documentation for this calendar year, the school has to receive the donation by December 31st, 2012. You are welcome to drop off your donation by the school office through December 19th or mail it after that. Thank you in advance for giving to Regents.
December 3, 2012
You are either going to view the Christian life as a ladder, upon which Jesus is standing at the top saying “climb higher, faster and harder,” or the cross, upon which Jesus said “finished.” As I listened to Tullian Tchividijian say those words in his message, “In the Beginning: Grace,” this struck me very hard. These approaches are not new, but with Tchividijian’s words I hear it said in such a succinct way. Western Civilization and capitalism have seeped into the church and, in this instance, not in a good way. We have tied advancement to effort in so many arenas of life, school, and Christendom. There are no exceptions (I will save school in this context for another article. Suffice to say, I do not see your children as the means to a behavior modification experiment.)
Regarding the gospel, the moment I add something to the cross, it ceases to be “finished,” but in progress. I become focused, even obsessed, with my obedience rather than His obedience unto death, even death on a cross. My obedience, as weak and shallow as it is, can have the deadly consequence of giving me the false hope of believing I can live the Christian life. The opposite is true. My obedience can have the opposite effect of growing in Christ. My obedience can lead to arrogance and looking down on others not as “spiritual” as I am (think Pharisees). The simple truth is that the unconditional obedience of Jesus on the cross eliminates all boasting I can do. So what does this have to do with a school like Regents? Everything!! Christian schools can be hotbeds of legalism. When we are more committed to looking like we are Christians than being Christians, it will lead to prideful students, faculty and families who think they are better than others. Instead of being a classical Christian school committed to being gospel centered we become Pharisee Prep School. The cross of Christ perpetually does gracious surgery on us when we understand the word “finished” means just that. As we preach the gospel daily to ourselves, we see Him in all we do and we want others to see Him in all we do
November 27, 2012
What would you do if you were hopelessly in debt with absolutely no prospect of paying it off, and someone came and paid it off? That probably grabbed your attention.
Regents School of Oxford will be classically driven and gospel centered. Through the fall I have written regarding these two phrases and, hopefully, the exposition has been helpful. There are many more topics I will cover in the classical realm, such as why we teach Latin, Logic, Rhetoric? Is technology important? (By the way…I am writing from a wireless laptop and I frequently check my iPhone if that is any indication of how I feel about technology.)
For today’s report I do have more to communicate about Regents being gospel centered. Regents being gospel centered necessitates the people who populate it being gospel centered as well. There is a direct correlation to being gospel centered and our love for other people. There is a direct correlation to being gospel centered and our willingness to forgive. This principle is well revealed by Holy Scripture in the story of Jesus attending a dinner at the house of Simon. While there, a local prostitute entered the room and began to weep. Her tears fell on Jesus’ feet and her hair “became” the towel to dry them. Those attending the dinner were shocked that Jesus would have anything to do “with such a woman.” Jesus tells a short parable about two debtors, one in great debt and the other whose debt is not as large. Both are unable to pay, but their debts were forgiven. Jesus asks the question “which will love the forgiver of their debt more?” Simon, the giver of the dinner, said “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” Jesus responded “you have judged correctly.” The Master Storyteller goes back to the prostitute and proclaims that her sins have been forgiven for she has loved much, but he who has forgiven little, loves little. Someone who is gospel centered is not going to see the woman in this story as a prostitute, but as a sister in Christ. Gospel centered people are ever mindful of their own sin and its heinousness, but also gospel centered people are ever mindful of the deep, unending passion that Jesus has for them. This perspective then allows a gospel centered person to view others as objects fit for receiving grace from me since I have been richly given grace by Jesus.
The truth about my sin debt is that it is so vast that I cannot possibly pay it. The glorious truth is that, because Jesus has called and covered me, He has already completed the payment on my behalf. That truth should make a difference in how I treat people and, if it does not, there is something wrong.
November 12, 2012
The questions asked at the Annual Fund Meeting last Thursday evening were excellent, as were the comments. It was one of those meetings where I asked myself on the drive home “what just happened?” I have to confess, normally, I dread meetings with a financial tone. Far too often these types of meetings are quick to go towards pragmatism and a school’s mission can get lost in the numbers. The difference I have noted thus far at Regents is that there is an undeniable commitment to the mission of the school by the board and there is a growing understanding of the mission of the school from the school community. I heard the phrases that I long to hear from our community: classically driven and gospel centered. I am grateful. I realize that using phrases does not insure that commitment is present, but I do think we are making progress.
One specific question that came up at the meeting was related to the gospel and those in the community who are not currently a part of Regents. A very good question, it gave me an opportunity to talk about how I speak to those not as familiar with these terms, “gospel-centered” and “classically-driven”. My answer focused on if we only admitted students/families who have a real understanding of either, RSO would not have very many students enrolled. It is my responsibility to teach current families and inform prospective RSO families of who we are and what we do. From the gospel centered perspective, I do not think prospective RSO parents need to be theologians to gain entry into the school. It is fine if they are, but the truth of the matter is that I want every family to recognize that we are all sinners in desperate need of a Savior. Our sin is a daily reminder of that fact. Consequently, I cannot look at another human being with eyes of contempt, knowing that Jesus has rescued me and ever loves me. Parents need to hear the message that Regents School of Oxford wants to shepherd the hearts of their children while maintaining the highest levels of academic prowess.
One last thing that I want to mention regarding the meeting: parents of 7th -11th graders openly talked about how pleased they are with where we are going and that their children are now excited about staying at Regents. Yes, read that last sentence again….and again. As I said, this was a different kind of financial meeting. We talked about financial goals, taking responsibility, staying true to our foundational commitments and most importantly, Jesus. Imagine that. If you missed the meeting, I am truly sorry. It was exceptional. Don’t worry though, there will be more.
I am honored to serve you as the headmaster of Regents.
November 5, 2012
Last week started as most weeks I have had at Regents, but by Thursday I was writing my mom's obituary. As stark as that sentence reads, it does describe the emotions we all face as human beings. Wednesday started out on a great note. Jeff McManus spoke to the Grammar school chapel about seasons of life and how the Father uses them in our lives. Just a bit later we held the first Upper School Assembly (which we will hold the last Wednesday of each month). I had been asked to speak at the first one; the topic I chose surprised no one nor should it surprise you. God loves us not because of what we do, but because of what He did through Jesus on the cross. No amount of effort on my part brings me closer to Him. It has taken me quite a while to learn the simple equation: Jesus + Nothing = Everything (a title of a great book by Tullian Tchijividian). So within two short hours the Father was prepping me for what would be a very long day.
While I was teaching my 8th grade Latin class my father called and told me that mom was not doing well, so he was taking her to the doctor's office. A bit later he called and said I had better come to the hospital. When I arrived she was already in a procedure. A nurse told us she would be in CCU/ICU for a couple of nights, but then she would be able to come home. Just as she was finishing her last sentence, her phone rang and she left quickly. My father left to move his vehicle, and while he was gone, two people came towards me. It was obvious the news was bad. I knew at that moment my mother was gone. (Technically, she lived for another twelve hours on full life support.) When my father returned, I had to give him this news. When he left to move the car, his wife of 55 years was doing okay. When he returned, he heard me tell him she would probably not survive. God's grace continued to support him and me through the evening. Through this long and difficult night, my mom's vitals would be stable and then decline. My dad and I had that very hard conversation about life support and what mom wanted. She had said many times that she wanted no "heroic" endeavors to keep her alive. Were we doing this? This was and is life at its most difficult. I had not thought about this conversation with either of my parents, but it was necessary at this moment. I realized after conversations with my father throughout the evening that he would probably not be able to do this, so I decided to act. I began to beg Jesus to either heal her by reversing the ravages of illness/disease, or heal her by taking her home. I stood by her bed for much of the early morning of November 1st praying. My mom stopped breathing and her heart stopped beating at 4:45am. Given what was possible in that situation, I was relieved for her and my dad.
You might ask why I would share such a personal family story with you. Simply put, I feel so very at home at Regents and sense your support that I thought you might want to know. The Regents family has shown such grace to me. Students have written cards that fill my office, the community has sent emails, texts, and called. Faculty, students, and a board member came to the funeral home on Saturday. I am grateful. There's one scripture passage that always comes to mind when one of God's kids passes from this life to the next: Psalm 116:15 "Precious in the eyes of Yahweh is the death of his saints." We call many things precious: jewels, clothes, people, but God calls death precious for his kids. If indeed it is precious, and His Word tells us it is, then He is very present at that moment. I don't understand it, but I am so very grateful He sees death like this. It gives me assurance that this is not the end, and it gives me everlasting hope. The hope, though, is not in my efforts or emotions, but in His eternal sacrifice He made on our behalf. So, I can grieve for my mom, but I will surely do it with hope in mind. That does not relieve the pain or the loss, but the underlying foundation of my life is the gospel. I sincerely hope yours is as well.
October 29, 2012
The student had made A’s his entire career until one class. He got his first B, having missed an A by just one percent. It would be devastating to this young man for sure. The headmaster had known this student for a few years and was sure of the grade’s potential impact. Grades, believe it or not, can quickly become idols for students and parents. Idols? Really, Dr. Johnson? Just think about it for a moment. Our culture is saturated with the idea that if we only work a bit harder, we will be approved by someone or something. The only difficulty with this philosophy is that this leads to an entirely new level of dissatisfaction with where we are. For the student I referred to earlier, he had built his self worth on making A’s. Sure, his parents had told him to “do his best” and that was all they ever wanted. I’ve got to tell you that I have met parents who said that, but really demanded A’s and grounded their children for less than that. More than once I have seen a young person devastated by parents demanding more. The question for me has become “who really wants the A on the report card, child or parent?” Some parents do not realize that, at some point, the child has to show independence and responsibility, and this occurs at different points for different students. What does this have to do with gospel-centered? Well, everything actually. When we parents demand better grades, even from students who are trying and with difficulty are making those grades, the students have a tendency to place their self worth in their grades rather than finding their worth in the cross of Christ. From a parental perspective, where do you go if you have blown it in this regard? The same place a student does if he or she has blown it: the finished work of Jesus. Problems will arise at some point because the B or F will come for a student. If we have built our children up by commending them on their grades, rather than the unchanging gospel, where will they go when failure does come? I have no problem with parents encouraging children to work harder, but again, we have to make sure that we do not equate self-worth with a grade. Actually, failure can be one of the better things to happen. A wise person, when he or she fails, generally takes an inventory of why failure happened. Only a fool would not do so.
The glorious truth of the gospel is this: Jesus loves those who fail. Imminently successful, He offers us Himself. By pointing our children/our students back to the finished work of the cross, the foundation of who they are is in something that will have an eternal affect on them. By the way, the young man whom I referenced earlier did make his first B…with me. I was teaching him Latin. He put tremendous pressure on himself to make all A’s. Thankfully, he made his B in an environment that provided him support and the right focus. Maybe your student has a different focus at this point, making more C’s rather than A’s. What do you do? Next week in this same spot.
October 22, 2012
A gospel centered approach to schooling? Is such a thing even possible? Don’t demerits, rewards and punishments work just as well? As a headmaster I should strike fear in the hearts of students as I walk the hallways. That will make them behave since they need to be good. My goodness those last two sentences are terribly written and patently false, for me at least. My attitude towards young people is that they desperately need Jesus whether they are sinning or not. Their sin actually reminds them of their need. Their obedience might actually make them think they are able to live a holy life without the cross. I realize my last sentence sounds odd but think about it. If our holiness is connected to our obedience, then what is the point of Jesus dying and covering our sin? Our holiness is rooted in His cross. Our obedience is rooted in our passionate love for Him. Steve Brown tells the story in A Scandalous Freedom (p. 13), about Abraham Lincoln purchasing an African-American woman on slave-trading market day. As they walked along, Lincoln said to her, “You’re free.” She was confused and asked, “Free?” He responded, “Yes, free.” The woman said, “Well, does that mean that I can say whatever I want to say?” Mr. Lincoln replied: “Yes, it does.” She continued: “Does that mean that I can be whatever I want to be?” He replied: “Yes, you can be what you want to be.” Still almost not believing what she was hearing, she said: “Well, does it mean I can go where I want to go?” “Yes, it means just that, you can go wherever you want to go.” Then the formerly enslaved woman said with tears in her eyes: “Well, then I will go with you.” The woman completely understood the concept of freedom and devotion. You see, that is absolutely vital for followers of Jesus, ones who were formerly enslaved in sin, to willingly follow Him with passionate devotion. We cannot press this analogy too far, but I do understand that this is an incredible picture of the gospel. I have the understanding of my freedom, yet completely get the fact that someone redeemed me.
Having this understanding keeps me remembering that I was once captive, but now I am gloriously forgiven – truly free to live. I recently wrote to some parents that if your child is going to have difficulty, there is actually no better place for it to occur than Regents School of Oxford. Again, I realize that sounds very odd, but think about it. Don’t you want your children to have the opportunity to fail but to do it within a community that will continue to love and encourage them? Why do children do the things they do? They do these things because they are human beings just like their parents. The difficulties and sin that comes into their lives is a great opportunity for us as parents, teachers, and headmasters, to join in the great conversation of the gospel with your children/our students. I realize that I am quite odd in this regard, but your children coming to my office is actually a good thing. It is a reminder that they need Jesus. No matter what your child has done, the cross of Christ is greater. It is crucial that we, as adults, don’t shut off conversation with our young people because of our disappointment in them. I still do that from time to time, but Jesus quickly reminds me that I am ever the prodigal running to the far country and He is ever the Gracious, Forgiving Father longing for my return, always ready to run to me and forgive. A gospel centered school? There is no other way to have a truly Christian school than one that is gospel centered.
October 16, 2012
Gospel centered…..what in the world does that mean? It is one of those terms that gets thrown around a good bit these days, for sure. I remember a number of years ago when I first heard “Christian worldview” at a teacher interview. I was the one being interviewed. Someone asked the question “what is a Christian worldview?” It seemed too simple to me but I believe the answer I offered was something like this: Looking at everything through the lens of Scripture. It was more than that, but at least that. Through the years I have refined that thought, but it still comes back to that simple answer. Our mission statement in its full form states: Regents exists to provide a classical and Christian education by empowering teachers to shepherd children’s hearts and minds. We will equip our students to master the ability to think logically and to communicate their conclusions persuasively. We will teach our students to evaluate their beliefs through the Word of God to the end that they are prepared to serve His Kingdom. That last sentence is the focus of our second topic. As I have written a number of times in these articles, a classical approach to education, even without the Christian piece, has endured the fads and produced thinking, capable women and men for some time now. I am committed to it on that basis alone. However, in a school like Regents, merely planning and providing an academically challenging curriculum does not fulfill the vision of the founders, nor the more recent mission statement. It is crucial that we be intentional when it comes to this Christian piece as well. Some Christian schools have decided all it takes to be “Christian” is to have a Bible class at some point in the curriculum. There actually may be no other reference to Scripture or the Gospel at any other point during the day. Unfortunately, as well, these same schools tend to build behavioral systems of holiness that equate righteousness with not getting demerits or detention. This approach leads to developing children who trust their obedience to the rules rather than understanding their innate need for the cross of Christ. A gospel centered approach, first and foremost, involves the institution recognizing that same need as well. I would offer to you this thought: Teaching in a school that does not proclaim Christ from its first bell to the last is equivalent to living in a building with no natural light. We can attempt to circumvent the need with fluorescent lights, but that is no match for the beauty of natural light gleaming through windows. One last thought: Human beings have attempted through the years to block out the light with “black out” curtains. The task we have every day at Regents is to pull the curtain back so well that, regardless of the subject, the glory of Jesus is revealed. How does my understanding that we are sinful affect how I teach?
October 8, 2012
In the previous weeks I have written regarding the classical mission of Regents. I am convinced, and history has proven it, that an education classically driven produces human beings who think logically, communicate clearly and spend a lifetime learning. This education is far superior to any other in producing these gifts. Classical education through the centuries has focused on mastery, understanding that the process of learning and the information learned was valuable. The end result was not a test score or a job. Unfortunately, our society has turned most educational models into exactly that. The truth is, even Christian schools have turned into nothing more than a place where a pragmatic approach to learning takes place. Helping young people aspire to more than they are through the great ideas of Western Civilization typically will not take place in schools where the emphasis is on getting into college.
In this article I intended to address the gospel-centered piece of our mission statement, but realized I have not finished with the classically driven piece. A point I want to make is this: even if we remove the Christian piece from the mission of Regents, the classical approach to education remains the time-tested way to disciple and train young minds. Students are trained to do more than follow the less strenuous routine offered elsewhere. Take Latin for example: thirty-one of the last forty presidents of the United States studied Latin either in college or in high school. How many schools in the Oxford area require Latin? How many schools in Oxford offer, much less require Rhetoric for the graduate? How about Logic? These courses were part of the core curriculum for centuries, until several generations ago. Is it any wonder that test scores have declined since new educational methods have come along and replaced the time tested standards that classical education offered? It is not to me. You might think I am suggesting a return to Greek, Latin, Rhetoric and Logic for higher test scores. Heaven forbid I would argue that. A return to these courses in our country would be good because these courses are glorious. A definite by-product would be high test scores, math included. The wondrous benefits of logic and Latin are noteworthy for many reasons, some of which cannot be denied. These subjects require attention to detail, develop the critical thinking process, refine our language skills, and uncover faulty reasoning.
What makes the classical approach most appealing is when it is taught through the lens of the Gospel. Every day every faculty member is pulling the curtain back and revealing what is behind the curtain. What is behind the curtain?
October 1, 2012
The upcoming presidential and vice-presidential debates should be very interesting for us to watch. Regardless of your political persuasion, the event will allow us to see the rhetorical ability of the candidates and will be engaging, but a debate in and of itself does not tell us whether or not someone will be successful in the job. I have seen enough debates to realize that people can have great speaking ability, but that does not necessarily transfer to the ability to carry out those ideas. Far too often people appear to know a great deal, even telling you they do, but do not have wisdom or depth. Their strength tends to be in their delivery of a speech and in their promise for results. It is not unlike a small group of itinerant teachers in ancient Greece who taught young men how to speak. The trouble that Plato had with this type of teaching was that the emphasis was on style and rarely on substance as well. Thankfully, we needn’t have to make a choice, at least here at Regents. I believe that the substance and ability are both necessary components of an education not just in older students but younger students as well. To teach students facts without attention to understanding or how to communicate those ideas produces students who are not fully educated.
Each week I have been writing about one of the foundational issues at Regents School of Oxford, classical education. The stages of the Trivium are Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric. In discussing this I have used the metaphor of baking a cake and how it is not actually complete until baked and iced. Thus far I have briefly described the Grammar and Logic stages with my cake metaphor. Now I will write concerning Rhetoric. The rhetoric stage (Sayers called it poetic) is best described as students who are a bit more introspective about ideas, yet have the ability to write and speak about those ideas.
The rhetoric stage at Regents is best defined as a student having the ability to speak and write clearly, and to think deeply about God’s creation. This includes the student being exposed to the Great Ideas of Western Civilization through philosophical dialogue with faculty and other students. It involves senior capstone classes in the sciences, theology, mathematics, literature, Greek and Latin. Our students will be taking AP level courses in those classes, utilizing technology as a tool. It is important that juniors and seniors be able to write and defend papers in front of the faculty and their classmates. Clearly, the rhetoric stage is the capstone to the Regents education and such an education is not complete without it. Thus, the cake metaphor implies that a student who departs earlier than graduation from this school is not ready to do so. It is not enough for a school to fill a child’s head with information, ready for a standardized test. I want young people graduating from Regents to have the ability to engage others. Frankly, I want students graduating from Regents to be so excited about learning that choosing a college major will be a difficult choice because they will love learning in every discipline.
I do like unbaked cake batter (most of us do), but there is nothing like a cake in all of its glory with icing! My commitment to you is that I will not be satisfied as the headmaster of this school until this happens routinely with our graduates. I am so very thankful for our three graduates from last year and am looking forward to the next.
September 10, 2012
What, exactly, makes up the “cake” of Regents School of Oxford? Remember the two short phrases that I want us to utilize are. These articles are an attempt to help us understand what those terms mean and how we are going to use them at Regents. Using the metaphor of a cake or brownies, mixing, baking and icing them, as the finished product, I mentioned last week that a student leaving before graduating from Regents is the equivalent of mixing the cake but not baking and icing it. Additionally, I suggested that parents should not allow children to make decisions that Jesus has called only those in authority to make (no matter the curricular or extra-curricular choices).
In choosing a Regents’ education, I understand that some parents are choosing the Christian option, others are opting for the classical element. It is my goal that families know exactly who we are and where we are going. So let’s look at the classical piece while understanding that every day the faculty is pulling the curtain back each day revealing the Glorified, Risen Lord Jesus. So that at the end of the year, even though the faculty member has been teaching math, she has really been revealing Jesus.
The basis of what we call classical Christian education has been bantered about as a method and/or stages of development in children. I think it is safe to say there is a bit of truth in both. For our purposes we will use Dorothy Sayer’s article, The Lost Tools of Learning, as our primary definition and then expand it. She clearly delineates the tools of learning as the Trivium of the Middle Ages. Sayers sees the importance of teaching children according to their bent: younger children – the use of chanting and singing to assist in memorization, young teenagers – recognizing their natural inclination towards argumentation and wanting to figure things out and older students – they naturally are more introspective while wanting to express themselves in spoken and written fashion. These stages of development are called Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric or, according to Sayers, Poll-Parrot, Pert, and Poetic.
The grammar stage of learning involves the very basics of whatever it is that we want to grasp. This will necessarily include a fair amount of memorization. Thankfully, RSO does not stop there as many schools do. Classical education does not view children as trash cans, seeing how high we can stack the items in it to the point of toppling over. There is definitely the need for the student to memorize the information but there’s also the need for the student to use the information. Think about this: every subject has a grammar and this might include names, dates, principles, etc. Imagine asking a child to explain how Calculus is the capstone of math without having even a basic understanding of mathematics or worse yet, never asking the question at all. So it is vital in teaching to make sure that a student has a basic understanding before asking her to think about how those facts either are similar or dissimilar. However, sadly, the emphasis on memorization and regurgitating never ends at some schools as the goal is not a fully developed human being who follows Jesus.
The goal at most schools, even some Christian schools, is a series of standardized tests that are taught to each year. Schools that follow this routine, for the most part, are caught up the grammar stage of learning as they ask students to memorize and regurgitate information without regard for the long term. In considering educational methods that seem to appear every few years, I am reminded of the way I was taught to read, the infamous see and say method. It was and is a disaster as it continues in various forms, most recently in the whole language approach. To this day I struggle at times when reading. I know it seems that something I was taught when I was 5-8 years old should not continue to have that kind of impact on me but it does. (I also acutely remember being taught that I came from apes and, at the time, was extremely confused about where that fit into “In the beginning God created…” Don’t kid yourself, children in environments where Jesus is either ignored, purposefully or not, does have an impact, especially after 40 hours a week for 36 weeks for even a year but more so for 13 years.)
What does the grammar stage look like at Regents? Please read next week’s article. If you have things you would like for me to address in this spot, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.